Significant historical events that have shaped the concept of Western Europe include the rise of Rome, the adoption of Greek culture during the Roman Republic, the adoption of Christianity by Roman Emperors, the division of the Latin West and Greek East, the Fall of the Western Roman Empire, the reign of Charlemagne, the Viking Invasions, the East-West schism, the Black Death, the Renaissance, the Age of Discovery, the Protestant Reformation as well as the Counter-Reformation of the Catholic Church, the Age of Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, the two World Wars, the Cold War, the formation of NATO and the expansion of the EU.
Prior to the Roman conquest, a large part of Western Europe had adopted the newly developed La Tène culture. As the Roman domain expanded, a cultural and linguistic division appeared between the mainly Greek-speaking eastern provinces, which had formed the highly urbanized Hellenistic civilization, and the western territories, which in contrast largely adopted the Latin language. This cultural and linguistic division was eventually reinforced by the later political east-west division of the Roman Empire. The Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire controlled the two divergent regions between the 3rd and the 5th century.
The division between these two was enhanced during Late antiquity and the Middle Ages by a number of events. The Western Roman Empire collapsed, starting the Early Middle Ages. By contrast, the Eastern Roman Empire, mostly known as the Greek or Byzantine Empire, survived and even thrived for another 1000 years. The rise of the Carolingian Empire in the west, and in particular the Great Schism between Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, enhanced the cultural and religious distinctiveness between Eastern and Western Europe.
After the conquest of the Byzantine Empire, center of the Eastern Orthodox Church, by the Muslim Ottoman Empire in the 15th century, and the gradual fragmentation of the Holy Roman Empire (which had replaced the Carolingian Empire), the division between Roman Catholic and Protestant became more important in Europe than that with Eastern Orthodoxy.
In East Asia, Western Europe was historically known as taixi in China and taisei in Japan, which literally translates as the "Far West". The term Far West became synonymous with Western Europe in China during the Ming dynasty. The Italian Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci was one of the first writers in China to use the Far West as an Asian counterpart to the European concept of the Far East. In Ricci's writings, Ricci referred to himself as "Matteo of the Far West". The term was still in use in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.